The state of the States (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: SDG India Index
Mains level: Discuss the highlights of the SDG India Index
- India was one among the 193 United Nations member states to adopt
the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015.
- It has been making sincere efforts to achieve these goals.
- The SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018, released to the public
in December 2018 by NITI Aayog, is a useful comparative account of how well
different States and Union Territories have performed so far in their
efforts to achieve these goals.
- It has not been possible to establish suitable indicators for
three of the 17 goals, including climate action (SDG-13).
- This is on account of either lack of identification of appropriate
indicators or of the inability to compare different States.
- On the whole, 62 indicators representing 14 goals have been
identified based on their measurability across States over time.
- A progress performance assessment has been made towards targets
set by the Government of India, or the UN SDGs target for 2030, or the
average of the three best-performing States.
- For reasons of comparability, all these indicators are normalised.
- Based on a scale of 0 to 100, the States are categorised into four
groups: achievers, front runners, performers, and aspirants.
- Achievers are those States which have already accomplished the set
target. Front runners are those States that are very close to realising
- A majority of the States are categorised as performers and some
lag behind as aspirants.
- Although classification sounds like an appropriate thing to do,
there is arbitrariness in the exercise in the sense that in a unitary range,
those States with scores till the midpoint are categorised as aspirants and
a cluster of States in a close range of progress are termed as performers. A
few States are designated as front runners.
- The three front runner States Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Himachal
Pradesh assume values of 66, 69 and 69, respectively, as against a range of
States with values between 50 and 64.
- With the national score being 57, almost 17 States qualify as
above or equal to the national score.
- Plotted on a graph, there is a negatively skewed distribution of
scores with a reasonable tail to the left, a fat presence in the middle, and
a tapering to the right.
- This needs to be recognised in classification; otherwise the
arbitrariness with which the classification is made somewhat hints at a
purposive designation of a few States in two extremes
and a major share of them in between.
The problem of averaging
- Further, when one reads into the performance on various SDGs, it
is found that many States fall into the aspirant category, especially for
SDG-5 (gender equality), SDG-9 (industry innovation and infrastructure) and
SDG-11 (sustainable cities and communities).
- These kinds of differences could well be emerging owing to a
different number of indicators considered under different SDGs as well as
their corresponding variability across the States.
- This is evident in the variation of scores across different goals.
In case of goals 1 and 2, the range for the majority of the States is
between 35 and 80. For goals 3 and 6, the range is between 25 and 100.
- Again, for goal 5, it ranges between 24 and 50. Given these
variations across different goals, merely averaging them not only
compromises on robustness but also masks the disaggregated story to a large
- Not only does the feature of the progress performance pattern need
to be recognised in such classification but also the pathway of progress in
development indicators, which has a character removed from linearity.
- Given that this is a measure of progress towards a target, the
States near the target get a value closer to one compared to those which are
away from the target assuming a lower value.
- These values are determined in relative terms in the sense that
they represent the unitary position of the States within the available scale
of gap between the minimum achieved and the target.
- Such positioning conveys a linear distance, which does not
differentiate a given distance between two States which have performed well
compared with another pair of States which are far from achieving the
- The difference in progress between the three front runner States
is three points.
- This is perhaps not similar to the distance between the performing
States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which too have a three-point
- Such comprehension of achievement is limited as regards to
comparing States, let alone designating them into four categories.
What can be done?
- The process of aggregation adopted to present the summary index of
compliance with the targets being a simple average assumes that each of the
goals as well as the corresponding set of indicators are equally important
and can substitute for each other.
- This also overlooks the aspect of inter-dependence of various
goals, although it is upfront stated in the exercise.
- To ensure minimum robustness of this measure, a geometric average
would have served towards avoiding perfect substitutability of one goal with
- It means achievement of progress in one goal cannot compensate for
compromise in another.
- While this exercise serves as a report card of performance of
States as regards compliance with the SDGs, its scientific adequacy is
compromised with arbitrariness that presents a
stereotypical pattern of performance rather than bringing out surprises.
- The choice of indicators representing specific goals need not
necessarily be guided by availability but also their explicit independence
from one another.
- This may help in making a uniform set of indicators for each of
the goals with proper representation without duplication.
- On the whole, this performance assessment may not be misleading,
but it does not help us understand the relative significance of compliance
in some goals that helps in compliance of the other.
- Thus, performance assessment of SDGs while overlooking the strict
interdependence of them may not be rewarding.
Q.1) Which of the following chemical is found in sunscreen lotions which
is considered to be harmful to the Coral Reefs?
(b) Methyl Benzene
(d) None of the above
Q.1) The SDG India Index overlooks the aspect of inter-dependence of
Sustainable Development Goals. Comment.